It was just about a year ago that U.S. Navy SEALs successfully conducted a raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan that brought a measure of "final justice" to the terrorist leader. It's hard to forget the sense of relief that brought, bringing with it a needed sense of closure to a country still suffering the wounds his al Qaeda terrorist organization inflicted on Sept. 11, 2001.
It's hard to forget the measured response from the president, from former President George W. Bush, and other national leaders—all of whom seemed to eschew the sense of triumphalism best expressed by the students from nearby George Washington University who, the night the news of the raid broke, occupied Lafayette Park across the street from the White House chanting, "Obama got Osama!" over and over and over again.
What a difference a year makes. Now Obama's presidential campaign is trying to make political hay out of the whole business by releasing a web video that questions whether former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, were he the commander in chief, would have given the order for the raid to go ahead.
The video poses the question: "Which path would Mitt Romney have taken?" Romney, for his part, responded when queried that the decision to go ahead with the raid is an order "even Jimmy Carter"— regarded by many Americans as notoriously weak as far as national defense is concerned—would have given.
Unfortunately for Romney, the Obama campaign already has what it wants: a national conversation reminding everyone just who killed Osama bin Laden—not the Navy SEALs and not the thousands of military personnel and intelligence operatives who worked on the case for almost a decade under two administrations. No, it was Obama who killed Osama.
Somehow, the Democrats apparently hope, "killing Osama" will morph into something synonymous with "strong leadership." Other than the raid on the terror compound Obama really has little to say about the way he has led U.S. foreign policy for just over three years. The war in Iraq is winding down but things in Afghanistan are still quite unstable. It's not clear that Obama deserves the credit or the blame for either of these things but it would be hard for to campaign on them. The Arab Spring, which started with such apparent promise and with Obama's encouragement, may not be working out as most everyone had initially hoped. It is certainly starting to look like the governments that are going to end up in power in places like Libya and Egypt are going to be unfriendly to the United States and friendly to Iran—so the president can't campaign on that either. Venezuela is still a hotbed of anti-Americanism, and even with George W. Bush out of office, our standing among the rest of the world hasn't improved all that much. There's also the possibility that, any second now, Europe could go down the tubes in a financial crisis of epic proportions.
So what is Obama left with? He can't talk really about Iraq, he can't really talk about Afghanistan, and he can't really talk about how he's made the rest of the world love America again—a consistent theme of his initial 2008 campaign for president. No, what he's left with is "Obama got Osama!"—a nice slogan but one likely of little comfort to an unemployed oil worker in the southeastern United States or an underemployed auto mechanic who used to have a job at a now-shuttered Chrysler dealership somewhere in the Midwest or a student who voted for Obama in 2008 and can't find a job with enough of an income to make a dent in all those student loans.
The Obama web video, as provocative as it is, is little more than a "head fake" designed to keep people from thinking about or talking about jobs and the economy. Remember, in the 1946 congressional elections it didn't help Harry S. Truman to be the guy who "nuked Japan," as a modern-day political consultant might have the bad taste to put it. But it hurt Truman to be the guy who couldn't get a handle on how the U.S. economy would retrench and rebuild after being on war footing for half a decade and accommodate all the returning U.S. servicemen. As Clinton's campaign famously reminded everyone over and over again in 1992, the issue is the economy—and it was in a lot better shape then when George H.W. Bush was turned out of office than it is now.